Two would-be muggers dropped their knives in front of the convenience store and ran for their lives at the sight of the Red Hood by the non-functioning phone booth, their unarmed target still pumping air into his flat tire completely unaware.
As funny as it was to see self-proclaimed “tough guys” piss themselves scared, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as punching faces. Patrol that evening was slower than slow, odd for a Friday night. At the rate things were going, there was no way Jason would be able to sleep. Chases on fire escapes and bank robbery brawls did wonders for his anxious energy levels.
Looking scary in front of gas stations was fun but didn’t provide adequate exercise.
He was about to call it a night when Nightwing’s voice grated in his ears. Jason had switched to a private channel hours ago, sick of listening to Tim and Damian argue and Dick trying to referee.
“Nightwing to Red Hood, do you copy?”
Jason sighed. “Yeah, sure. I’m here.”
A relieved sigh on Dick’s end. “Finally. I’ve been trying all the channels. Listen, Robin ran off earlier and his tracker hasn’t moved in a while.”
“And? Sounds like Batman’s problem, not mine.”
“That’s the thing. The GPS shows him in an old office park in The Bowery. We’ve been talking busting their drug operation but haven’t gathered the necessary intel. RR and Robin had a disagreement about the best way to bug the building.”
So that’s what the arguing was about. Jason was so glad he knew now.
Dick continued, “Anyway, Damian took off a while ago. We gave him a little space, y’know, to let off some steam. We’ve been watching his movements but B’s getting worried.”
Jason barked out a laugh. “You mean you’re getting worried.”
“Okay, okay. I wanted to check on him but B needs help here and you’re closer. He asked me to ask you. There are reports of gunshots in that area but the police are too tied up to get over there right now.”
It wasn’t very often that Batman asked him for help, even if the ask came through the Golden Boy. Their relationship was tenuous on a good day.
Dick cut Jason off. His ability to talk really was a talent. “Red was exposed to an unknown toxin, Alfred picked him up an hour ago. B and I are dealing with a bank robbery on the other side of the reservoir. We’ll meet you there as soon as we can, okay?” Dick pleaded, almost pathetically.
Silence. Jason had already decided to go but would let Dick sweat for just a few more seconds. Bats near his territory made him nervous. Too close of an affiliation with Batman would ruin his brutal reputation. Maybe he didn’t kill as readily as he used to, but the filth of Crime Alley didn’t need to know that. They needed to stay good and scared of the Red Hood.
“Fine,” Jason verbally gave in. “I’ll go get your Demon Brat.”
“Thanks. I owe you one.”
It didn’t take long to make it to Damian’s location once he re-activated the GPS in his helmet. Most of the streetlights were out and there were more beat-up cars lining the parking lot than Jason would have expected for 2 am. The lights were on in the office suite at the back of the lot, faintly visible through thick blinds. Jason almost thought nothing was wrong until he heard the repeated crack and echo of indoor gunfire and breaking window glass.
No good. No one shoots at bats except for him. Big brother mode: Engaged.
Jason pinged Damian’s GPS again and ran around to the back side of the building where the signal was coming from. Peeking through a broken window, he finds Damian near the restrooms, huddled behind overturned metal folding tables and toppled filing cabinets, cheek bruised but otherwise unhurt. Splotches and piles of white powder were everywhere, and Jason knew it wasn’t for jock itch.
Some things, you just don’t need explanation for.
Down the wide hallway was a large group of armed men, pointing black and silver pistols toward Damian’s location, looking ready to advance. Robin appeared to be out of projectiles and distracting explosives, otherwise Jason knew he wouldn’t be hiding. That didn’t leave Jason many options. He could provide distraction from the front of the building, but that wouldn’t guarantee he would draw everyone out. From what Jason could see, every single thug inside was packing heat. Damian might be a master martial artist, but that wouldn’t help at range against guns.
Fortunately, the 9mm firearm varieties that criminals favored for ammunition availability and concealable size didn’t have enough “oomph” behind them to pass through full filing cabinets and only made dents in the metal and wood composite tables. Damian was safe enough for the moment.
The only option was to cover the kid. Shootout it is.
Jason hoists himself up through the broken window, tearing his jacket sleeves on sharp glass in the process. A quick roll to avoid incoming gunfire and a few running steps later, he slides behind cover next to Damian who looks somewhere between begrudgingly grateful for the help and thoroughly miffed at who showed up.
He couldn’t let that go. “Good to see you too, Demon Brat.”
Damian clicked his tongue in a terse greeting. He never did appreciate that nickname. “Red Hood. I called Nightwing.”
Helmets sure were handy things, great for concealing black eyes and silently mouthed obscenities from overbearing fathers, and dramatic eyerolls from little brothers.
“N made me come. What happened?” Another volley of bullets dented the table behind them.
“I had a disagreement with Fa-” Damian started, but Jason cut him off.
“I don’t care. Who are these guys?”
“Two gangs in competition.”
“Working together? That’s weird.” Jason peeked back over the edge of the table to look, sure enough seeing a mix of gang identifiers, the letter “B” on belt buckles and tattoos on some guys and others sporting various dragon imagery. He only got a moment to confirm before ducking, a bullet whizzing by his helmet. Murmurs amongst both groups suggested the presence of the Red Hood warranted a change in plan. “Why aren’t they fighting each other?”
“New development. I was bugging the back room when the miscreants with the dragon clothing arrived,” He scowled, crossing his arms defensively. “I would never have been discovered had it not been for their interference.”
Ah, business rivals. As the old saw goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It was a rare opportunity indeed to catch one of the Bats, cornered and alone. Gangs competing for territory would always be around, but if they could take down Robin…
The familiar ‘chck chck’ of pump action shotguns and shouting from new voices got Jason’s attention. Jason really would have expected semi-automatics, but for up-and-coming drug operations they might still be too expensive, even out of the trunk of someone’s car. Still, only one way to find out if they had buckshot or slugs, and Jason didn’t want to while the kid could get hurt.
A quick glance around to re-confirm their surroundings, Jason spied a supply closet, unlocked, between the men’s and women’s restrooms, not far from where they were sitting and reasonably covered, if only for a few seconds.
Damian was getting impatient. Rude, for someone in need of rescuing. “Don’t you have a plan? You idio-”
Jason didn’t let him finish his insult. Grabbing Damian by the collar of his cape, he drags a pissed off Boy Wonder and wrenches the closet door open, shoving Damian in with the mop bucket and brooms. The kid looks even more steamed if that was even possible.
“Stay here, baby bird. Can’t have you getting hurt,” The corner of Jason’s mouth twitches into an almost-brotherly-smile, of course hidden by his helmet because they’re convenient like that, and he shuts and locks the door before the demon brat can protest.
He ignores the angry banging on the closet door behind him and the muffled shouts, drawing black .45 caliber pistols from his holsters, index fingers twitching toward the triggers.
This rescue mission was about to turn into a mass arrest for GCPD. Let it never be said Jason didn’t like to multitask. Red Hood time.
“Hood, you imbecile! When I get out of here I-” Damian paused in his shouting and banging on the door at the muffled chorus of exchanged gunfire, panicked shouts and pained grunts.
He remembered himself after a moment and felt along the wall for a light switch. Finding one, he flipped the clunky knob and a single low-wattage bulb in the center of the ceiling lit up, buzzing as it started to warm up. Damian scowled, not finding anything amongst moldy mops and cleaning supplies that might prove useful for his current predicament, he dug his lock picks out of his utility belt and frantically set to work on the door. No way would he let his moronic dead predecessor be responsible for ending this confrontation without him.
Todd was outnumbered and outgunned, pinned down in a disadvantageous location. Damian swallowed thickly, his fingers clumsily fumbling with the picks. It was his own fault. He had been reckless and foolish, and now someone else was going to get hurt.
Because of him. Damian needed to get out. He had to fix this. Had to help.
The lock released and Damian twisted the knob and pushed but was unable to push the door open more than a few inches. He clenched his teeth in fury at the discovery that Jason had pushed a filing cabinet in front of the door. With a vehement shout, Damian pushed his shoulder into the door as hard as he could, hoping to budge the obstruction outside but prevented by his lack of mass.
He growled, irritated. He couldn’t open the door even with a successfully picked lock and didn’t have the necessary tools to pop the hinge pins, which looked rusted anyway.
He couldn’t get out.
“Hood! Let me out!” His fist slammed repeatedly into the old door, his voice breaking from strain. An outburst of commotion from down the hall before everything started getting quieter, presumably taking the battle out front.
Damian had no idea how long he banged and pushed on the door, shouting his frustration. The calcium squeak of enamel from clenched teeth nearly audible, fists sore and bruised. Why hadn’t Jason come back?
He balked at that thought, reluctant to acknowledge that maybe he was glad to see Jason even if he hadn’t shown it. Father was going to be disappointed in him for getting himself into trouble, Grayson would be overly worried for his welfare. Todd, however, had only been interested in getting them out. No reprimands, no mother-henning. Just a non-judgmental rescue. Like a… big brother.
“Robin!” Damian heard his name from the doorway. Realizing he had stopped calling out, he pounded against the door with his bruised hands, yelping when bruised flesh struck the hard surface.
“Robin? Where are you?” It was Grayson.
“Nightwing! In here!” Damian yelled back.
Grunts of efforts from just outside the door, the metal cabinets grating noisily on the old linoleum floors.
The door flung open and Damian found himself gathered up tight in Dick’s arms. For once, he found he didn’t mind.
“You okay, Little D?” Grayson whispered into his hair.
“I’m uninjured,” Damian mumbled into Dick’s shoulder, the tight hold on him not relaxing at all. If anything, it was getting tighter. After a moment, he struggled against the hug. “Let go of me.”
Dick let Damian go and helped him up. While his brother checked him over and walked him out, he got his first good look at the aftermath of the skirmish.
The entire space was a disaster. Well, more of a disaster. Bullet holes in all walls, spent brass cartridges littering the floor. They were everywhere. Batman had not taught him extensively about firearms, basics only, but he felt a small swell of brotherly pride to see Jason’s larger cartridges mixed in with the smaller casings. Knowing that his victims would be hurting.
Out front, red and blue lights flashed as members of both gangs (all injured from their tangle with Red Hood) were loaded into awaiting police vehicles and ambulances. Nightwing steered Damian towards his motorcycle parked away from the commotion.
Something was missing. Damian stopped and looked around again.
“Where is Hood?”
“…” Dick swallowed and ran gloved fingers through his hair. “He. He got hurt. B took him back to the cave in the Batmobile.”
“Let’s go, then,” Damian started towards the black and blue motorcycle. Dick sputtered for a second and jogged to catch up, swinging his leg over the bike and starting it while Damian climbed on back, wrapping his arms around his brother’s torso.
The ride back to the cave was a blur of high RPM whining and streetlights, weaving through traffic. Thoughts of guilt over his poor decision making, relief to be going home, satisfaction at the extensive arrests made and please be okay swirling in his head. He buried his face into his brother’s back.
Echo’s from the motorcycle reverberated off the walls of the tunnel into the Cave, the bats overhead shuffling and squeaking their momentary distress. No sooner than when Dick halted the bike and toed out the kickstand was Damian off the bike. More tired now than he expected, he waited for Dick to dismount before looking for Jason.
Dick settled a hand on Damian’s shoulder, pulling him close while they headed toward the commotion in the med bay of the Bat Cave.
To Damian’s immediate relief, Jason was(alive) on the first gurney in the med bay. His helmet and body armor already removed and multiple obvious gunshot wounds exposed. Alfred and Bruce both bent over his midsection, murmuring quietly between them and occasionally some type of encouragement to Jason, who groaned pitifully at a particularly painful prod from the butler.
“… fuck,” He whispered, eyes shut tight.
“Language, Master Jason,” Alfred chastised gently, picking up a new instrument from his tray and applying to the wound just above Jason’s hip, eliciting another pained grunt from his patient. He shook his head sympathetically. “You have managed to make a proper mess of yourself tonight.”
The guilt Damian was feeling on the ride back to the cave resurfaced with vengeance, upon hearing That his poor decisions resulted in someone getting hurt. His.. brother. “This is my fault,” He said quietly.
“Dami,” Dick tried to console at the same time that Bruce, still in the Batsuit with the cowl hanging down over his back, barked, “Go to bed, Damian.”
Damian didn’t move, but Dick let go to fetch more surgical towels. Alfred continued working to staunch the bleeding from the worst of the wounds. Jason grimaced as the Butler-Turned-Surgeon continued to clamp and suture persistent bleeds. His hands held tight to the gurney rails, feet turning and toes curling in effort to stay still and quiet.
Jason grit his teeth through his panting and Bruce set a heavy hand on his forehead, swiping his bangs out of his face. He didn’t even look at Damian when he said, “Damian. I told you go to go bed.”
Jason coughed. “Come on, B. He already,” Another cough, “feels bad enough. He’s safe.”
Damian’s eyes did not get watery when Jason let go of the gurney rail and extended it out to him. And he definitely did not sniffle when he took his brother’s hand in both of his own, gripping tight to strong fingers.
“B’s not mad, brat,” Jason’s voice was strained, a result of emergency trauma treatment. “He just sucks.. at feeling stuff.”
“Almost as much as you, Little Wing,” Dick’s lighthearted chuckle was abruptly punctuated by a whooshing exhale from an elbow to the gut.
Bruce sighed. His hand carded through Jason’s hair one more time before he motioned for Dick over to take his place assisting Alfred. Damian’s bruised hands were gripped too-tightly in Jason’s fist when his father came around the table and crouched in front of his son.
Two heavy hands landed on his shoulders, and he did his best to ignore the sounds of pain and first aid when he looked into his father’s eyes. He wasn’t angry. He was relieved.
“Damian, I was afraid for you tonight,” One hand now on his cheek. Damian’s ears were not hot. “We will talk more tomorrow, but for now I’m just glad you’re safe.”
Once again, strong arms enveloped him. He couldn’t hug back because his hands were still locked in Jason’s fingers, which was actually getting painful. But he ignored it, burying his nose in the crook of his father’s neck. If any tears left a trail of wet on Bruce’s neck, nobody said anything.